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Rod Gilmour at Lord's
July 22, 2007
"Good morning and welcome to Lord's," announced the public address system on the first morning of play between England and India. And with that, Johnny Dennis, the permanent voice of cricket at Lord's for 12 years and every other major international involving England, marked 40 years since the public address (PA) was first introduced during the India series in 1967.
Prior to the age of loud speakers, MCC employed a man to walk around the ground with an enormous wheel and a chalkboard attached to it. Pity the poor man who had to inform the public of pitch inspections if the same had been in place during this rain-affected Test at Lord's.
"On it would be chalked 'England have won the toss'," Dennis said. "Then he would walk around the ground again with the player changes and the scorecard at the intervals. And that was public address circa 1920s."
Later, at clubs around the country, it would be the job of the club secretary to bellow through a megaphone to punters doing wrong on the boundary.
"Suddenly PA came on the scene and the audience was treated with a great deal of respect," recalls Dennis, who has voiced over 160 Tests and 200 ODIs.
The role of public announcer at Lord's was started by accident by a group of British actors who drank in front of the old Tavern stand. They included Trevor Howard, Richard Burton and Sir John Mills, who was the founder president of the Lord's Taverners.
"At charity games," Dennis said, "the Taverners had an announcer and a Lord's official who was present one day thought this a good idea."
The first PA at the second Test against India in June 1967 were John Snagge, the BBC's newsreader during the Second World War, and Alan Curtis, who later authored a book on public address, and PA at Lord's until Dennis took over full-time, a role that Dennis professes as "all hard work and homework".
"My attitude is of treating people as if they are coming to the ground for the first time," he says of his job. "With the touring sides, my Test match usually starts on the Monday. I go to the nets, lunch with them, find out pronunciations and most importantly the kind of logos they have and what kind of gloves they will use. From a distance, this is the only kind of clue I have.
"Lord's is such a cathedral of cricket that you act as a kind of audio guide you have to pitch it right, but in a voice that translates that you are proud to be working there."
Then there is the old PA's adage that you should wait to the batsmen have crossed until you mention the incoming player.
"Like all good acting, it's all in the timing," announces Dennis, although he has made the odd mistake. "I've said Ed Smith instead of Nasser Hussain once, and it was purely a lack of concentration. Nasser quite rightly gave me a glance back."
And although he rates the two West Indies-winning World Cup Finals at Lord's as his best experience, it's the whole home of cricket experience that wins Dennis over.
"It's the best job in the world, but don't tell anybody though."
Rod Gilmour is a freelance journalist based in London
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